The Rise of the Uberlings
But one of Uber’s most underappreciated legacies, particularly in the tech world, is the effect it’s having on startup creation. According to an analysis by David Rosenthal, a general partner at the venture capital firm Wave Capital, an astounding 34 companies—let’s call ‘em Uberlings—have already sprung from the ride-hailing firm, founded by former employees seeking to reproduce Uber’s success (much to the delight of investors). This is well ahead of the number of startups spawned from companies like Google, Facebook Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. at a comparable time in their respective histories.
Some of the Uberlings, like their parent, are focused on transportation. There’s the electric scooter upstart Bird Rides Inc., most recently valued by investors at about $2 billion, and also Beam, an e-scooter rental company in Southeast Asia, and trucking automation startups Ike and Kodiak Robotics Inc. Even former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has started a kitchen rental business for restaurant deliveries called CloudKitchens, which may or may not be competing with his former firm.
Other Uberlings have nothing to do with moving people and stuff around the physical world. Former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. banker Andrew Chapin, who ran Uber’s controversial car leasing program, founded an online therapy service called Basis to challenge “the notion that someone needs a PhD to help others with their mental health,” as he wrote in a Medium essay. Ilya Abyzov, the onetime manager of Uber’s ride-hailing business in its hometown, started Forward to connect people with doctors online in lieu of a pricey in-person visit. Former Uber creative strategist Carly Leahy co-founded Modern Fertility to make fertility information and home tests more accessible. And there are many others.
So why has the Uber alumni network been so prolific? Most obviously, they have the dough. Secondary stock sales at Uber over the last few years enriched early employees ahead of the IPO and gave them the resources to, say, buy a house, while also taking a shot at doing something risky. Wave Capital's Rosenthal adds that Uber’s entrepreneurial culture likely had an impact as well. In the early days the company was "massively decentralized," he says, with local general managers enjoying the authority to act more like "mini-CEOs than big-company employees." The type of person who excelled in that role, he says, "was way more suited to becoming an entrepreneur than a ‘typical’ employee."
The big question, of course, is whether these startups are also reproducing Uber’s notoriously adversarial attitudes toward the rule of law. Aside from the scooter companies and the question of whether electric scooters can safely and profitably exist on city streets, it seems, for now, like they’re behaving themselves. The Uberlings seemed to have learned something from their progenitor.
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